HUSQVARNA FE501: $10,199
Husky’s rebirth wouldn’t have caught traction without this bike. The big four-stroke off-road bike didn’t get as many changes as the Husqvarna MX line, but it’s still a spectacular bike. To put it in KTM terms, it’s like a 500XCW motor in a 2015 450XCF chassis, but with softer suspension. It’s EPA approved and green sticker legal in California. This year the fork offset is reduced and the front axle is smaller.
You can easily get lost in the maze of KTM off-road models. The 500 XC-W has the big SOHC mauler motor with trail-bike manners. The motor is EPA approved with minimal emission equipment. It has the no-linkage PDS rear suspension with a WP 4CS fork. Like all of KTM’s four-strokes, it has electric start and Keihin fuel Injection. This year the offset is reduced and the front axle is smaller.
Beta has four different four-stroke off-road bikes that are mechanically similar, aside from displacement. The 480 and 430 are separated by only 5mm of bore but have a very different personality. For 2016, they get a number of changes to the head and cams as well as the Synerject EFI that was only available on the 350 last year. They have electric start with a kickstarter back-up, six-speed gearboxes and Sachs suspension.
HONDA CRF450X: $8440
The venerable CFR450X is still with us. This is an off-road version of the 2008 Honda CRF450R motocross bike, which many riders still hold sacred. This is also the basis for the OX motorsports Baja-winning race bike as well as the winner of the 24-Hours of Glen Helen. It’s electric start, still uses a carburetor, and has gone unchanged for years.
Husqvarna has a much simpler model line that its parent company KTM. There’s an MX line, a dual-sport line and an off-road line. The FE450 is the off-road 450. It has electric start, linkage rear suspension, a Magura hydraulic clutch and the WP 4CS fork. Its engine isn’t based on the one in the motocross version any more and is green-sticker legal in California.
This is the trail-oriented KTM 450. The differences between it and the more race oriented XC include EPA-approved emissions, softer no-linkage PDS rear suspension, a quieter exhaust note and smoother power delivery. This bike didn’t get the new motor like the motocrossers, but it has reduced fork offset, a smaller front axles and a handful of other changes for 2016.
If you want all the performance of a lop-line motocross bike for riding off-road, KTM has something just for you. The 450XC-F is essentially a motocross bike, fit with off-road amenities, like an 18-inch rear wheel, softer suspension and a wide ratio gearbox. The XC-F shares the new engine and chassis with the new SX line and is completely different from the XC-W this year.
Sherco is well-known for its trails bikes, but the four-stroke 450 off-road bike is produced in a completely different factory. The 450 has an electric-start motor that you won’t see anywhere else. The suspension is from WP and the bike features Synerject fuel injection and a six-speed gearbox. The Sherco line has a different importer from the trials line and can be reached at www.shercooff-road.com.
The days of here-and-gone Asian imports are gone. SSR survived by offering quality that was a notch higher than most. The SSRs bear a strong resemblance to the Honda CRF450X and CRF250X, with SOHC, five-speed, electric start motors in an aluminum chassis. The prices are almost $4000 less than Honda’s. SSR motorcycles have a 90-day warranty and there are dealers in almost every state.
Yamaha is going after KTM in a big way. The WR450F is all-new this year, and is based on the reverse-engine platform of the YZ450F motocross bike. It has electric start, is fully EPA compliant and so is eligible for a green sticker in California. For those looking to go racing, Yamaha’s accessory division will sell a competition kit with a new ECU to provide more performance. The WR450F should be showing up in dealers in late November or early December, 2015.
YAMAHA YZ450FX: $8890
This is a full factory-made off-road race bike that can line up for a cross-country event in stock form. The FX is like a YZ with electric start and a wide-ratio 5-speed gearbox. It’s imported as a closed-course race bike. According to Yamaha, it was the platform that was used for the bike that Romain Fabvre rode to victory in the 2015 world motocross championship.
These two bikes are smaller versions of Beta’s big 480 four-stroke off-road models. The company has manipulated the bore and stroke of the fuel-injected, six-speed DOHC motor to make four-different models, all with the same price. The 350 got fuel injection last year and now the 390 has the same Synerject system. All the Beta four-strokes have new heads and cams this year. Despite sharing so much with the larger Betas, the 390 and 350 feel much lighter.
Colton Haaker, Mike Brown and almost all of the Husqvarna off-road race team uses this bike to go racing with good reason. It’s awesome. It’s an electric-start, fuel-injected four-stroke with a heritage that comes from the world motocross championship. The 2016 model doesn’t have a long list of changes and is unlike the 2016 Husqvarna FC350, which is all-new this year.
Everything is new on this bike for 2016. It’s a blood relative of the new KTM 350SXF motocross bike, but has a six-speed gearbox replacing the MX bike’s five-speed. It also has softer suspension, an 18-inch rear wheel, a larger tank, a kickstand and handguards. The XC-F line is designed for off-road racing, but imported as a closed-course bike and is not regulated by the EPA or CARB.
For 2016, the “W” line of KTM four-strokes is based on the older platform, as opposed to the SX-F and XC-F models which are all-new. The 350XCF-W is designed for trail riding and is EPA approved with California Green-sticker eligibility. It has electric start, a six-speed gearbox and no-linkage PDS rear suspension. This model also as the DDS diaphragm spring clutch with a Brembo master cylinder.
Beta’s two-strokes have earned the respect of everyone in the off-road world. They have smoother low-end power than anything in the class, and have proven to be reliable. The electric starter is integrated in the engine cases and there’s still a kickstarter. For 2016 there are a number of changes including the addition of a oil-injection system. There’s also a Race Edition available that has no oil injection system.
Husqvarna’s two-stroke, electric-start off-road bike is made mostly from KTM parts, but the end result has its own identity. It uses linkage rear suspension and a unified airbox/subframe. Husqvarna also has its own bodywork. For 2016, there are a number of changes including a smaller front axle. The 250 and 300 are identical aside from displacement.
KTM considers the XC line to be its race-oriented off-road bikes. So the 300 and 250XC are basically an electric-start 250SX motocross bikes, although the engine tuning and suspension settings are more off-road oriented. The XCs also get 18-inch wheels, kickstands and a wide-ratio, five-speed gearbox, but no headlight. There is no 300cc motocross bike in the line, so the 300XC is KTM’s most powerful two-stroke.
When KTM puts a “W” suffix on any of its models, it means the bike is trail-oriented and not quite as hard-edged as the racing models. So the 300XC-W and 250XC-W have softer suspension and more linear power delivery than the XC versions. They use no-link PDS rear suspension. Unlike the four-strokes that end in “W,” the 250 and 300XC-W are not green-sticker legal in California.
Sherco is the only maker currently offering a 300cc off-road four-stroke. It’s based on the company’s 250, and has electric start, fuel-injection, a six-speed gearbox and WP suspension. The two bikes have the same chassis, but the engines differ in both bore and stroke. The bikes meet Euro 3 emission standards, but have not yet been homologated for a California Green Sticker.
These are probably the most exotic production motorcycles in the world. TM two-strokes have beautiful hand-welded aluminum frames that house five-speed, case-reed engines. The motor uses an electronic powervalve similar to the configuration used on the Honda CR250R two-stroke. The fork is a KYB, and the shock is made in-house at TM. TM four-strokes are available by special order.
In Europe, the tiny Sherco race team continues to threaten the giants in the World Enduro Championship, squeaking out victories here and there. The French motorcycle has an electric start, two-stroke, six-speed motor with an electronic power valve in a steel frame. In the U.S., Shercos will be imported with WP suspension, front and rear. The brakes are Brembo and the clutch is hydraulic.
The fact that Yamaha is offering an off-road two-stroke for the first time in over a decade is big news. Technically, there aren’t many differences between it and the MX model; just the wide-ratio five-speed gearbox, 18-inch rear wheel, suspension settings and kickstand. But, it makes for a big difference in the way the bike works off-road and represents a big change in the way Yamaha thinks about the off-road market.
HONDA CRF250X: $7410
Honda’s 250X has become a little dated in the wake of the Yamaha WR250F, but it remains high-quality trail bike with a good price. The 250X has electric start, a five-speed gearbox and an old-fashion carburetor. This bike was never meant to be a racer, but it can be competitive with a little modification. In stock form, it’s quiet, smooth and well-mannered, just not especially fast.
This bike is very similar to the Husky FE350 aside from the smaller bore and shorter stroke. The FE has its own personality and feels much lighter than the 350 despite sharing so much. The rear suspension uses linkage like the motocross version, but is much softer. The FE is imported as an off-road bike, which means it’s fully EPA approved and has minimal emissions equipment.
KTM’s 250 XC-F is a racer, just like the KTM 250SX-F motocrosser. The speciality where this bike is meant to race is officially called “off-road closed-course,” which is broad-speak for GNCC and WORCS. It has the same motor and chassis as the motocross bike, but with softer suspension, a six-speed gearbox, a bigger tank, an 18-inch wheel, handguards and a kickstand.
Even though this is KTM’s most trail-oriented off-road four-stroke, it’s still a very potent machine, with a 14,000 rpm redline and lots of top-end power. Like all of the KTM four-strokes that end in “W,” it is EPA-approved and has some emissions equipment as well as a very quiet muffler. The motor is based on the older platform, not the brand-new one that comes in the XC-F and SX-F models.
In 2015 Yamaha updated the WR250F with a much more current motor design. It’s now based on the current YZ250F with its fuel-injected, reverse cylinder motor. It also has a six-speed gearbox and, wonder of wonders, an electric starter. This bike is dumbed down with EPA emission hardware and a throttle stop, but racers can get a competition kit from Yamaha that will make YZ-level performance possible.
When it came out in 2015, this bike was the biggest news of the year. Technically it was a mix of the Yamaha YZ250F motocross bike and the WR250F off-road bike, making it, essentially, an electric-start YZ with a six-speed and softer suspension. Philosophically, it represents a big change in Yamaha’s thinking about off-road bikes and shows that KTM has competition in that world.
The 200 is a legend on wheels. Back in 1998 it pointed the way for the current generation of KTM motorcycles with the company’s first versions of PDS no-link suspension and hydraulic clutches. The motor still has a universally loved power delivery, but since the early days when it received an electric starter, not much has changed. This year it gets rubber-mounted bars along with other detail changes.
When it comes to off-road 125cc two-strokes, the very concept is difficult for most Americans to grasp. It’s hard to understand just how effective they can be in tough situations, and the Husky is nearly alone in that class. It didn’t get the new motor found in the motocross version, but it has suspension upgrades, a smaller front axle and 22mm fork offset for 2016.
TM RACING EN144/EN125 (Two-strokes): $8700/$8450
The TM 125 and 144 are built on similar engine platforms, but the 144 is larger in both bore and stroke. Just like the bigger bikes, they have aluminum frames, CNCed triple clamps and billet parts everywhere. The fork is KYB, the shock is TM and the brakes are Nissin. The 2015 model is pictured and will be similar to the 2016 version, but there are differences in frame geometry and suspension.
Portugal might not be known as a hub of dirt-bike activity, but AJP is trying to change that. The AJP PR5 is a 250cc off-road bike with fuel injection, a six-speed liquid-cooled motor and Sachs suspension. It’s a perfectly modern dirt bike in most ways, with electric start and a composite aluminum/steel frame. There’s also an upscale AJP PR5R that has more power, weighs less and sells for $500 more.
AJP has targeted entry-level adults with this bike, which features a shortened seat height with a fairly sophisticated bolt-together chassis. The motor is a 233cc air-cooled four-stroke with a carburetor and electric start. The PR3 has a 17-inch rear wheel and a 19-incher in front. There’s also a PR3.5 240 Enduro Pro that comes with full-size wheels that sells for $100 more.
The is a weird bike that you have to ride to appreciate. Think of it as a trials bike for a regular man. The chassis is pretty much a normal off-road bike, but downsized about 10 percent. The suspension travel is just over 10 inches. But the electric start, two-stroke, 300cc motor is tuned like a trials bike, so it’s incredibly good in tight quarters. And it has oil injection, with an idiot light to let you know when to fill the oil tank..
This bike was a bold move from KTM last year and has already earned a cult following. The 250cc two-stroke is a cross between a trail bike and a trials bike. It takes its suspension and smooth, torquey power delivery from the trials world, and its electric starter, seat height and fuel range from the trail world. The frame is bolted together and the gas cap is under a flip-up seat.
Before the Beta Xtrainer and before the KTM Freeride, Sherco was showing the X-Ride at European motorcycle shows. The X-Ride is now coming to America with a motor that is very closely related to the one in Sherco’s 290 trials bike. It starts with an old-fashioned kick and has a five-speed gearbox. The fuel tank holds 7 liters and there is a full seat. The 125cc version sells for $6200.
HONDA CRF230F: $4199
You can trace the lineage of the CRF230F all the way back to the early Honda four-strokes of the ‘70s. It has a air-cooled, two-valve, overhead-cam motor that looks much like that of a 1979 XL185. Nowadays, it has electric start and is in a compact chassis with single-shock rear suspension. The gearbox has six speeds, the clutch is manual and the seat height is said to be 34.1 inches.
There’s a big jump from a mini to a full-sized motorcycle in the dirt and not many bikes to fill that space. The Yamaha TT-R230 is lower to the ground and milder than a full-sized 250, but it has a manual clutch and a six-speed gearbox. It also has an electric starter and dual disc brakes. The 230 is an in-between bike that makes a good stepping stone or a timeless bike to keep forever.
HONDA CRF150F: $3699
The “F” suffix at the end of the end of the CRF150F means it’s the Family model, not to be confused with the CRF150R racing model. The 150F has an air-cooled, two-valve motor with an electric starter and a five-speed gearbox with a manual clutch. It has a 19-inch wheel in front and a 16-inch wheel in the rear, making for a seat height said to be under 33 inches.
These are Asian imports that are priced very affordably. The SR189 is similar to the Honda CRF150F in most features. It has an electric starter and a five-speed gearbox hooked up to an air-cooled, SOHC four-stroke motor. It has a 16-inch rear wheel and a 19 in the front. The SR150 has a smaller motor and a 14/17” wheel combo. SSR also offers a full line of pit bikes ranging from 50cc to 160cc, and priced from $390 to $1995.
Kawasaki has the best price of all the Japanese makers in this category. The KLX140L is very similar to the Honda CRF150F and a notch above the Yamaha TT-R125 in performance. It has a five-speed gearbox with a manual clutch and a E-start motor that’s only 5cc smaller than the Honda’s. The L model has a 16-inch rear wheel and a 19-inch front wheel. The standard version has 14” and a 17” wheels.
Yamaha’s big little bike is the TT-R125LE, which comes with a manual cltuch and a five-speed gearbox that appeal to more experienced riders. It also has an electric starter and a smooth power delivery that appeal to beginners. The only model currently offered is the big-wheel version with a 16-inch rear wheel and a 19-incher in front.
Honda has two versions of the CRF125F that differ only in wheel size. The standard version has a 14-inch rear wheel and a 17-inch front wheel, while the Big Wheel has a 16/19 combination. That results in a two-inch difference in seat height. Both have an air-cooled two-valve four-stroke motor with a carburetor, a four-speed gearbox, a manual clutch and electric start.
Suzuki has its own entry in the big-wheel 125cc four-stroke class like Honda and Yamaha, but it’s the only one without an electric starter. The DR-Z is comparable in most other ways with its 16” and 19” wheels, single overhead cam motor, manual clutch and five-speed gearbox. The good news is that the price hasn’t gone up in years, but the bad news is that it’s still slightly over priced.
This is the third year for Honda’s 110, which has proven to be a big hit with beginners. The motor is a simple air-cooled two-valver with an automatic clutch linked to a four-speed gearbox. The motor has electric start with a kickstart lever for back-up. This particular machine is made in Japan, which is unusual in the mini market.
This was quite the cult bike when it came out in 2002. Since then, the pit bike craze has peaked, but the KLX110L remains a hit because of its manual clutch and tall seat height, which are rare in this category. The standard 110 has the same displacement, wheels and frame, but with less suspension travel and an automatic clutch that lets the engine do all the work. The difference in seat height is 2 inches.
The market is filled with no-name Asian minis, but if you ask any parent who has gone down that road, he’ll probably tell you to stick to something mainstream like the Yamaha TT-R110. It’s extremely reliable, which is critical to the whole learning experience. The Yamaha has electric start, a four-speed gearbox and an automatic clutch. It also features an adjustable throttle stop which is handy until your kid learns how to adjust it himself.
In physical size, the Suzuki DR-Z70 comes in right between Yamaha’s 110 and 50, but has no electric start. The motor is an overhead cam two-valver with an automatic clutch and a three-speed gearbox.The wheels are 10 inches at both ends and the seat height is 22 inches. Suzuki is the only Japanese manufacturer still offering a bike in this size and displacement.
HONDA CRF50F: $1399
Honda’s 50cc mini has survived everything, including an invasion of Asian clones and, if you go back far enough, a meteor that caused mass extinction on earth 65 million years ago. Today’s CRF50F has a number of updates compared to those preserved in Cretaceous period fossils, but some features are eternal, such as the automatic clutch, the three-speed gearbox and the universal appeal to kids.
This is one of very few 50cc minis that features electric start. The good news is that even the smallest kid can start it himself. The bad news is that even the smallest kid can start it himself. It also has a three-speed gearbox and an automatic clutch hooked up to an air-cooled, single overhead cam, two-valve motor. The TT-R50E is manufactured at a Yamaha plant in mainland China.
There really is no debate as to which mini is the best for very young beginners. The Yamaha PW50 wins hands down. It has a low seat height and a centrifugal clutch with an automatic transmission for the kids, and it has a two-stroke motor and a driveshaft for the parents. There’s also an adjustable throttle stop that lets you limit the power output. It’s been around a very long time, so parts are never an issue.